Advocates and family members of a gay undocumented Peruvian immigrant who remains in a Louisiana detention center maintain he has not received proper treatment for the post-traumatic stress disorder that stems from the anti-gay discrimination and violence they say he suffered in his homeland.
U.S. Border Control agents took Luís Armando Mendoza Sanchez into custody near Penitas, Texas, on Feb. 25 shortly after he entered the country. Vinnie Picard, spokesperson for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told the Blade that Mendoza, 22, told arresting officers that he was from Perú and that he was not afraid to return to the South American country. He noted that Mendoza informed agents who detained him near Douglas, Ariz., on Jan. 22 that he was from Mexico.
Picard said that Mendoza told an ICE officer a few days after agents took him into custody in Texas that he actually was afraid to return to Perú because of his sexual orientation. He was transferred to the New Orleans Field Office while U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services evaluated his asylum claim.
Mendoza’s aunt Maribel, who lives in D.C., reached out to transgender activist Ruby Corado in July after she saw her on a local Spanish language television station. She told her that Mendoza was afraid that his fellow inmates at the Oakdale Federal Detention Center in central Louisiana were going to rape him.
Maribel, who declined to give her last name, told the Blade that her nephew left the Peruvian capital, Lima, six months ago to escape what she described as anti-gay persecution and violence from local police, neighbors and others. Mendoza’s parents passed away from AIDS when he was a teenager, and Maribel said that he sought what she described as a better life in the United States.
Corado relayed Maribel’s concerns to ICE officials.
“I have some serious concerns on the severe mental health consequences that result from the long terms of incarceration that many LGBT people experience while in custody of ICE,” she wrote in a July 27 e-mail to Melissa Jaramillo of ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations that the Blade obtained. “Many of these detainees are people who have suffered severe trauma and incarceration in their home countries and have or are dealing with issues of sexual abuse and rape or the post-traumatic stresses after they were victims or a violent crime.”
Corado sent a second e-mail to Jaramillo on Aug. 8.
“Talking to Luís [Mendoza] tonight, it seems to me that my plea for help for LGBT victims like Luís is not going anywhere, no mental health or therapy is being offered to him,” she wrote. “Nobody has even attempted to reach out to him to help him address his mental anguish.”
Picard confirmed to the Blade that Corado had contacted ICE and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that oversees the agency about concerns she and Maribel had over his safety.
“ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) officers immediately interviewed Mr. Mendoza about his perceived safety concerns,” he said. “Mister Mendoza’s only stated concern to ERO officers was how his claim of persecution based on his sexual orientation relates to his asylum case. Mister Mendoza did not affirmatively advise ERO or detention center staff of any safety concerns.”
Clement Lee of Immigration Equality acknowledged to the Blade that PTSD is not uncommon among LGBT immigrants. He further noted that a detainee’s access to medical care depends upon the type of facility in which they are held — some are run directly by ICE, while others are contract facilities and even local jails.
“Some of them get better care, some don’t,” said Lee. “I’ve had clients that have been able to get prescription medications to treat depression, to treat hallucinations. I’ve had other people who have sort of just languish and meet with a psychologist just one and say that’s too much — you’ve been raped 17 times, this is more than I can handle. The stress of being in detention sort of adds to that PTSD.”
Picard said Mendoza received a mental health screening from ICE Health Services Corps after he was transferred to the LaSalle Detention Center in Jena, La., late last month. Agency protocol indicates that each detainee who enters an ICE detention facility undergoes a screening that includes a medical, dental and mental health evaluation within 12 hours of their arrival.
“The initial report from IHSC is that Mr. Mendoza had a standard medical and mental wellness check,” said Picard. “Mr. Mendoza reported that, in general, he is fine.”